In the opening scene of “The Suicide Squad,” an old man (Michael Rooker) with long gray hair bounces a handball around a prison yard. With superhuman strength, he chucks the ball at a sparrow that landed nearby, reducing it to a bloody stain on the concrete. Out walks Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a higher-up at a secret government agency. She reveals the man to be Savant, a low-level supervillain, and convinces him to join her so-called Suicide Squad, a team of obscure villains punished with the task of carrying out government missions, in exchange for 10 years off his sentence.
From the first five minutes of the film, director James Gunn wastes no time with deep character backstories or long-winded exposition, but rather leans into the campy fun of a classic comic book. Though it lacks emotional depth, “The Suicide Squad” is a pulse-poundingly violent, scathingly funny and unapolegetically cheesy joyride.
“The Suicide Squad” follows the team of supervillains on a mission from the U.S. government as they attempt to sabotage the mysterious Project Starfish on the fictional Latin American island of Corto Maltese. Initially, I was very underwhelmed by this storyline. At first glance, it seems like a quintessential myth of American exceptionalism, in which the U.S. must save the world from an evil third world country and their dreams of disrupting the western hegemony. However, a twist at the end brings into question everything we know about our anti-heroes’ mission, and provides an unexpected critique of western imperialism.
The film’s titular squad consists of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and a massive bipedal shark named King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), who work together quite well. Thanks to Gunn’s skill for dialogue, characters bounce witty one-liners and playful insults off of one another. Most of the deeper relationship-building is accomplished through the character Bloodsport. His rivalry with Peacemaker, paternal protectiveness for Ratcatcher 2 and former military experience with Colonel Flag place Bloodsport at the emotional center of the Suicide Squad.
However, connections between members of the Suicide Squad are surface-level at best, and at times are simply nonexistent. For example, Harley Quinn, easily the most recognizable character of the bunch, spends a vast majority of the movie separated from her fellow squad members, leaving little to no room for her to form bonds with them. Most character backstories are reduced to a few lines sprinkled here and there, causing a disconnect between the viewer and the characters. However, I found that it didn’t negatively impact my investment in the action on-screen. The Suicide Squad are pawns in games that they do not fully understand, so we relate to their sense of helplessness and root for their triumph over the ties that bind them.
What makes “The Suicide Squad” work so well is its willingness to embrace a lack of emotional depth. The movie is incredibly violent, and those standing in the squad’s way tend to end up decapitated, ripped in half or blown to bits. The carnage is so over the top that, at times, it takes on an almost slapstick-style humor. Gunn’s choice to include lesser-known villains from the DC universe (such as the not-so-intimidating Polka-Dot Man) introduces some comic irony to the film. The stylized action, combined with Gunn’s signature sense of humor, make for a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, unlike the 2016 Suicide Squad adaptation. This combination of old-school comic book camp and gritty violence is unexpectedly brilliant. Even in its slower moments, “The Suicide Squad” never loses its sense of fun.
“The Suicide Squad,” which released Aug. 6 in theatres and on HBO Max, is a wonderful movie-going experience if you know what you’re getting yourself into. It probably won’t win any Oscars, but the film doesn’t care. And truthfully, neither do I. “The Suicide Squad” is a worthwhile watch for anyone simply looking for a rambunctiously enjoyable experience.